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Greens debate democracy and the Democrats
What is the future of the Green Party?

July 22, 2005 | Page 11

TODD CHRETIEN was northern California field coordinator for the 2004 independent presidential campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo, and is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the Green Party in Oakland, Calif. Here, he analyzes the debate among Greens leading up to a national meeting this month in Tulsa, Okla.

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AN IMPORTANT debate is being carried on among activists: Moderate our message in order to appeal to the center? Or stand up for our principles and move public opinion towards the left? This debate runs through the antiwar, abortion rights, gay marriage, civil rights and labor movements. And it has been raging in the Green Party since before the 2004 elections.

The Green Party will have a national meeting in Tulsa, Okla., July 21-24, where one point of the agenda will center on proposals brought forward by Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI).

The GDI was formed after David Cobb and his supporters used questionable party rules to win the Green Party presidential nomination at the 2004 Milwaukee convention, pushing aside Ralph Nader even though Cobb had received only a small minority of votes in Green Party primaries. When Cobb secured the nomination, he remained true to his word and caved to the Democrats' "Anybody But Bush" mantra. His "strategic states" campaign didn't challenge Kerry in any state where the race was close.

This led a majority of rank-and-file Greens active in the 2004 presidential race to support Green Party leader Peter Camejo as Ralph Nader's vice presidential candidate--instead of Cobb, the party's "official" candidate.

In the end, Cobb got just over 100,000 votes, a pale shadow of the united Green/Nader campaign in 2000 that won almost 3 million votes. Even after weathering every dirty ABB trick in the book, Nader-Camejo got more than 500,000 votes in 2004.

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SINCE THEN, the GDI put forward its proposals to democratize the Green Party rules that Cobb exploited and insist on independence from the Democrats in partisan races. The proposals won votes by large majorities in the country's two biggest state parties, New York and California, as well as in a number of smaller state parties like Vermont and Florida.

But the proposals have been met with opposition from some leaders and rank-and-file members in the Green Party, who have debated them openly and respectfully, even while they publicly call for closer collaboration with sections of the Democratic Party.

Thus, Greens in Wisconsin voted down the GDI proposals, and Green Party leader Medea Benjamin recently signed a fundraising letter for the Progressive Democrats of America. At the May statewide meeting of the California Greens, Mike Feinstein, a longtime party leader, raised the possibility of putting Democratic Party candidates on the Green Party ballot line by "cross-voting."

This tension is only natural in a party trying to stand up to the entrenched power of the two-party system. GDI organizers, like Camejo and Howie Hawkins, the party's mayoral candidate in Syracuse, N.Y.--have clearly stated that they don't want the party to split over these questions. Instead, they insist on an honest debate, and then democratic means to determine which proposals or candidates have more support.

Unfortunately, some elements on the right wing of the party have reacted to this debate by launching a red-baiting campaign designed to smear the left wing of the party and obscure the real discussion.

While much of this goes on in whispers, Green Party National Secretary Greg Gerritt has circulated an essay on the Internet accusing the International Socialist Organization (ISO) of trying to "take over" the Green Party, and declaring that GDI supporters are carrying out a "leftist attack" on the Green Party.

His evidence? It's pretty thin soup. As for the ISO "takeover," Gerritt says he spoke to an anonymous professor at Brown University, who assured him that there are forces on the left "that most definitely practice this form of takeover, and clearly noted that the International Socialist Organization is one of the practitioners."

Gerritt also states that "the ISO [h]as a number of Greens for Democracy and Independence members." Finally, Gerritt records that several members of GDI "attended the recent ISO meeting, and seem to have imbibed from its model of hostile takeovers of active organizations in hope of capturing resources and activists who would never join the ISO on their own."

Why does Gerritt charge that the GDI is carrying out a "leftist attack"? It pretty much comes down to the fact that Gerritt disagrees with the GDI proposal that presidential nominees should be chosen on the basis of "one Green, one vote." Instead, he argues that the "GPUS, in its wisdom, understands big state, small state issues are ones the people of the United States have wrestled with for more than 200 years and developed to balance the inherent differences between big and small states. The United States came up with a bicameral legislature to provide some of that balance."

Where to start with this? Never mind that the Green Party wants the Electoral College abolished! But the notion that it's a good idea to emulate the "bicameral legislature" is really absurd. After all, the Senate was set up primarily to insure that the more direct democracy of the House of Representatives would be kept in check by the more elite Senate. At any rate, what this has to do with a "leftist attack" is hard to figure.

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IF GERRITT'S "evidence" is so ridiculous, why is he making these claims?

Red-baiting has a long tradition among liberal political forces. When more radical ideas or leaders start to gain popularity, more liberal forces will "cry red" hoping to divert attention from the actual political discussions at hand. Sometimes this tactic is successful, because American political culture is so stained with McCarthyite suspicion of socialists and communists that many activists have absorbed the political prejudice.

That's why it's so important to point it out openly and stand up against it. Green Party members, including those who are not socialists, should reject Gerritt's slanders and instead debate for or against ideas, not on the basis of who is proposing them, but on their merits.

I contacted Gerritt personally and challenged him to cite a single example of the ISO "taking over" a political organization. He couldn't do it. In place of evidence, he offered platitudes.

"Ideological rigidity is a rather unproductive approach to politics in the United States in the 21st century," he wrote in an e-mail. "Green Party success depends upon clearly understanding the circumstances in which we find ourselves in each election cycle. The GDI and ISO attacks on the Green Party are based on an ideology that is anti-ecological, as success in the real world depends upon flexibility and using a multiplicity of approaches and tactics. In other words, thinking and acting like an ecosystem."

Leaving aside the question of whether or not an ecosystem can "think," Gerritt now adds in another whopper of a charge--that is, that the GDI and ISO are "anti-ecological."

This is silly for (at least) two reasons. First, GDI's platform is centrally focused on "one Green, one vote" and independence from the two (actually anti-ecological) corporate parties. Second, the ISO's goal is to help build a radical movement strong enough to get rid of the profit motive, which is the central driving feature in the accelerating destruction of the planet. What's anti-ecological about any of that?

Gerritt is free to disagree with any of the GDI's specific proposals, but if the Green Party agrees with its national secretary that members of the GDI (which accounts for a very large percentage of active Greens) are "anti-ecological," then the party is in trouble.

If the Green Party is to grow and be at least partially the electoral expression of the social movements, it will have to learn how to reach out and include a new layer and generation of members who will come in with all sorts of different political ideas. Some will be more left wing, some will be more right wing. Some will be ex-Democrats, anarchists, nationalists, socialists or feminists.

The greatest danger facing the Green Party today is not the infusion of new forces from the left, which are small enough, but the colossal power of the Democratic Party to absorb and dismantle fledgling opposition forces.

Drawing a clear line in the sand against the twin parties of war, profit, oppression and environmental collapse is what the GDI really stands for, and it is why members of the Green Party who are also members of the ISO support the GDI. Safe states, fusion, cross-voting and the like are strategies for surrender.

There is no way to fool people into standing up to the Democratic Party. We will have to build a political party that shows them--in the good times and the bad times--that it is never correct to put the interests of the Democratic Party ahead of the interests of the people.

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